Credo: Why I Have Decided to Change the Way I Live

On leaving an academic career to pursue a vocation in art, writing, and simple living

The reasons for my decision

SelfPortrait-Softer Brighter
Back in June, I attended a cardiology appointment that had a profound impact on me. My meeting with the cardiologist was routine and I did not receive any alarming news, but I became aware of the fragility of my own body in a new way. As an infant I was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition, and my life had been saved by the UK’s National Health Service and the surgeons at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. I have always felt grateful for the life-saving help that I received, and could talk superficially about my condition with friends and loved ones, but now I see that I was also prone to a form of denial. Throughout my adolescence and early adulthood I placed my heart condition to one side as I tried to establish an identity for myself. My routine appointments continued from year to year, but in my conscious mind and my behaviour I aimed to suppress what they represented with denial and distraction. This year marks the first time that I am fully and consciously aware that I have a congenital heart condition. And while there is no reason why I cannot live a full and happy life, I am now awake to the fact that I nearly didn’t survive infancy.

“Until now, I feel that I have been sleepwalking through a cosy existence where words are worth more than action, and ethics is a philosophical concept rather than a lived practice.”

In recent years, another kind of awareness has grown and developed in my mind. I have become increasingly alert to the hardships faced by peoples and cultures, both locally and internationally. Since the economic crisis of 2008/9, I have witnessed an increase in poverty and inequality throughout the United Kingdom where I live, and particularly in the Welsh Valleys where I was born. I have seen increasing numbers of homeless men and women struggling to survive in the city of Cardiff, where I currently live, and an increase in the number of families and individuals seeking shelter from violence and persecution who are painfully exiled from their homelands. I have also witnessed wealthy institutions and public figures exploit the suffering of the poor and the dispossessed to increase societal divisions for the purpose of pursuing wealth, power, and influence. My reaction to this situation has evolved over time from anger, to profound disappointment, and ultimately to an awareness of the part I play, whether consciously or not. For too long I have been complacent with my own privilege and position, and I have put my own misguided ideas of comfort ahead of other people’s basic needs. I have felt ashamed to be among Christmas shoppers on a city High Street, walking past homeless people forced to beg in ice and rain. Until now, I feel that I have been sleepwalking through a cosy existence where words are worth more than action, and ethics is a philosophical concept rather than a lived practice.

Discovering my priorities

Since acknowledging the fragility of my own body and acknowledging my responsibility to those less fortunate than myself, I have begun to ask myself what my true priorities are. I have asked myself in earnest what would it mean to lead a meaningful life, a life that would bring me a sense of peace in the world. This question has led me to decide that I want to devote my life to living as simply as I can, and to pursue my vocation as a writer and photographer.

“I have always found comfort, solace, and exhilaration in the power of art to express the mystery, the ambiguity, and the wonder of human experience.”

I wish to live simply because it will allow me to wake up and put my ethical convictions into practice, to help other people by giving generously of my possessions and of my time. And I wish to write and take photographs because it is through these expressions that I feel most at home. I have always found comfort, solace, and exhilaration in the power of art to express the mystery, the ambiguity, and the wonder of human experience.

Leaving academia

To live simply, I have decided to leave an academic career on the submission of my first monograph to the publisher. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to pursue postgraduate study, and teaching undergraduate students has been one of the greatest joys of my life. But producing academic research within a standardised framework has never been exciting or stimulating to me—and now, it never will. I do not know whether I will teach again or find myself working in a shop, whether I will be employed in administration or helping at a charitable organization: I simply want a dignified and ethical post that will allow me to spend more time with my vocation and my loved ones.

A simpler way of living

My decision to change occurred as I listened to the doctor during my cardiac appointment. I shared this new conviction, which felt very much like an epiphany, with my wife, Jennifer. From that afternoon, I have followed a healthy and nutritious diet based on fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, grains, and pulses. I do not eat meat (I have been vegetarian since I was a teenager), and the only animal products I consume are Greek yoghurt, honey, and occasionally oily fish. I do not eat processed or frozen foods, and no longer use processed ketchups or mustards to flavour my food. I also restrict the amount of salt that I consume. I drink plenty of water, and limit my caffeine intake to green tea. I no longer drink alcohol. I exercise every day, and my wife and I try to cycle each morning for around thirty minutes at a time.

I observe this routine every day, including on special occasions such as birthdays and gatherings. While the decision to limit the kinds of food I consume might seem strict, I find that I am choosing from a much greater variety of foods, herbs, and spices than ever before. Since changing the way that I eat and exercise, I feel calmer, more alert, and am enjoying every meal. I feel wonderful.

Giving away my material goods

In August, I began to go through my possessions and decided to keep only the things that have some practical use (and I include ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ as practical uses). In addition to radically simplifying my wardrobe, I have donated hundreds of books (over two thirds of my library) to friends, colleagues, and charitable organisations.

My book collection has been growing since I began reading seriously as an adolescent, and while I have periodically sold or donated books here and there it has always been with the purpose of making space for new additions. This time, I started by questioning why I own a book collection in the first place: I concluded that I typically purchase books not simply to read and enjoy, but to represent some real, tangible, and material sense of my own identity—something that I can hold in my hands and share with others. I realised that many of the books in my collection no longer fulfil that purpose, and that many have never given me the joy or happiness of even a first reading. Instead, these purchases (which amount to hundreds, if not thousands of pounds) were taking up space in my life and weighing me down.

I resolved that I would keep only those books that I feel a genuine love and affection for, or which serve an explicit practical use. Every other book can be given to someone for whom it will be valued and appreciated. (At times, I was struck by the books that would stay and those that would go: several modernist authors were given away to a local charity shop, while the scrappy Stephen King paperbacks that I have adored since I discovered my love of reading and writing were kept close at hand. I take this as a sign.) In the future, I will prioritise the experience of reading over the accumulation of objects.

A new day

This site will continue as a growing archive of articles and interviews promoting literature and the arts, and I look forward to sharing my own personal story as it develops.

I do not know how I will support myself financially in the months and years to come, since I am not independently wealthy, but I have never been so certain of my path as I am today.

I want to express my gratefulness to all my family, friends, colleagues, students, and readers for helping me to reach the point I am at today, and I will look forward to each new day as it arrives.

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  3. This reverberated with me in so many ways. So often we get stuck in jobs or careers because it’s what we’ve always done, it’s all we know, or we feel obligated to stay. But sometimes in life, our priorities change. I’m glad you were self-aware enough to take action when that happened.

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  5. Congratulations on your new path and revised goals. I believe that meaningful work is key to feeling part of our communities, and hope that one day all citizens will be valued and compensated for their individual, important contributions, whatever they may be. You certainly have a determination and need to communicate with others via the written word, and you work at your craft diligently, creatively, and with an open mind. As evidenced by your website and other written output, we are your devoted readers, so Write On!

    On the topic of diet, I slowly eliminated meat, processed foods, gluten, etc, and now I’m a vegan! I feel better than ever before, and my weight maintenance requires very little effort or thought (whereas this issue used to plague me constantly). I’m so happy to hear you’re on a similar path to body wellness!

    • Thank you, Erica! As it happens, I was vegan for two years as a teenager, and trialled it again more recently (back in January). I do wonder whether I will give up animal products entirely at some point in the future. We’ll see! My best wishes to you and for the road you are taking 🙂
      Rhys

  6. I had a hunch Thoreau was on to something with the ‘simplify’, just don’t give up the coffee.

    Hey man, thoughtful words once again and best of luck for the new journey you’re taking. Your blog continues to impress! Myself, I had a painful book clearance recently, though you’ll be pleased to know Stephen King’s The Stand was one of the last books um, standing. Had to make room for yet more photography monographs on the shelves, y’see. Counting eighty now. Speaking of which, I was wondering if you’d like to meet up for coffee in Cardiff or Penarth some time for a chat on all things Lynch, photography projects, writing, life-direction etc.

    Best of luck buddy,

    Pete

    • Rhys Tranter

      Thank you, Pete! And yes, it would be great to meet up. I have sent you an email.

      Best,
      Rhys

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  8. Hello Rhys! I wish you all the very best in your new direction.

    When my daughter was born I decided that I wanted to spend as much time as possible with her and at home. I teach part-time, which is our family’s only income, and while I sporadically worry about our long-term financial stability and the implications of never owning one’s own home, we don’t feel that we lack anything. I’m sure you’ll find what works best for you and that life can be much pleasanter.

    I ONLY wish that I could be less sentimental about my books. I do own too many. I seem to love them all.

    • Rhys Tranter

      Thank you for sharing, Helen. It’s inspiring to hear that others have felt similar motivations—and share many of the same anxieties! As for your books, if you love them then I think you should keep them! 🙂

      Best,
      Rhys

  9. I’ve been thinking about this post all day, Rhys. Two years ago I had a cardiac arrest, the year before that a serious breakdown. Most recently I lost both of my parents. I’m in my 50s and I know that I will not return to my former career. One does stop and re-evaluate. I know what I would like (which does include writing and photography) but not quite sure how to make it realistic. I’ve always lived a modest life—now is the time to figure out what that looks like moving forward.

    All the best to you and your wife on your journeys.

    • Rhys Tranter

      Thank you for your inspiring words. I remember reading your post about your cardiac event, and empathising with it very strongly. Speaking for myself, I know that there are some difficult practical problems that I will need to solve, but I strongly believe that knowing one’s priorities is a big asset. I do not expect to make anything from my writing or photography—I have put that thought completely to one side—and am simply going to proceed with my life in a way that I can do what I enjoy, while also finding opportunities to serve others. I look forward to seeing what you decide for yourself, and following your own progress. It’s heartening to know that there are other people out there who feel the same about these kinds of issues.

      Best,
      Rhys

  10. I commend your resolve. And commiserate with you for your heart condition – do you know Conrad’s story TheSecret Sharer? Good luck with your future plans – and much respect.

    • Rhys Tranter

      Thank you! I am not familiar with Conrad’s story, but will certainly look into it!

      Best,
      Rhys

  11. A brave and wise decision and I hope things go well with you. I can understand your need to move away from academia – my Middle Child was determined to teach, but the red tape, lack of funding and cynicism she encountered during training led her to abandon the course early on. She adored interacting with the students, but the structure and restrictions were impossible. You are right that we waste to much time bogging ourselves down with material items – it has taken me many, many years to realise this and I am now in the progress of trying to rid myself of stuff. Good luck with whatever you do!

    • Rhys Tranter

      Thank you for your kind words. It’s a very difficult time for aspiring academics, that’s for sure, and I empathise with your child. Unfortunately, so much focus is placed on producing research at many institutions that teaching the next generation of human beings on the planet sometimes gets forgotten. Absurd, if you ask me. But I am making my peace with it.

      I definitely know what it’s like to try to rid oneself of excess. I never had a problem giving away clothes or kitchenware or nicknacks, but books were always my Achilles heel. I clung to them like precious artefacts. I knew that if I was going to proceed, that books were the belongings that I had to handle. But I have been careful to make sure that I keep the ones that I love—I didn’t want to get rid of books simply for the sake of it, but to make things easier for myself. I’m glad I did it, and wish you every success in whatever steps you decide to take!

      Best,
      Rhys

  12. I salute you, Sir! We’re travelling similar, parallel paths, in a way, over slightly different terrain. I had the epiphany, years ago, that the most precious and irreplaceable commodity is Time and that I was complicit in a con that was robbing me of that commodity. What a gift, Existence… how absurd to convert every radiant instant into the grey sludge of the work-a-day world! I stripped down my possessions, too, and I fled the ultra-Materialist culture I’d been born into (the Expat’s song). I improvised the Life I wanted, and now have no boss (well, our 11-year-old Daughter is *like* a boss) and Time to walk and think and Create.

    My Beautiful Wife and I both earn money creatively, and though we’re not rich, we have zero debt. We’re raising our Daughter to be a Thinking, Feeling, Self-Determined Anti-Materialist, too. It doesn’t mean we don’t believe in shoes or chairs, it means we aren’t caught up in the normative psychosis of Materialist Status-Hunger. No car, no TV, no i-phone and lots of little pleasures every day. And some big ones a few times a week, too! So, yeah: it can be done. It just took me about ten or fifteen years to perfect the methods.

    But don’t be too hard on yourself for being “complicit” in the miseries of the ground-down underclass: the bastards on top are making very deliberate moves to cause that misery. They are the root problem; they are absolutely culpable. And, yes, in aggregate “we” are supporting them… but, as conscious individuals, we each have only one-hundred-thousandth of the power necessary to fix that. The Age Old Problem!

    • Rhys Tranter

      Thank you for your words of wisdom and support. While I have been reading about the topic of simple living (etc.) for a long time, actually putting things into practice feels like a whole new ball game. It feels like I am right at the beginning of something, and it’s good to hear from someone who has spent ten-fifteen years working on it. In a way, I think that process is what life is all about.

      Best,
      Rhys

      • “and it’s good to hear from someone who has spent ten-fifteen years working on it. ”

        Quite a few “normal” friends seemed to think I was a fool, years ago, when I jumped the fence… all of them are divorced alcoholics (and many in terrible debt) all these years later. My Wife, Daughter and I are meanwhile having a tremendous time (while Daughter is shaping up to be an Art Star of some kind). Silence, Exile, Cunning… and Praxis!

      • Rhys Tranter

        There’s no easy way in this life, that’s for sure…

  13. May your journey continue to be as interesting as it has been so far. Best of luck. Sometimes life is lived in spirals, coming, going, circling around the same issues, ever more deeply.

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